Contemporary Art sales in London: excellent results



With a total revenue figure up 255% compared with February 2009, Christie’s and Sotheby’s Contemporary Art sales have confirmed the recovery of the top end of the art market (combined revenue of $79,5m in February 2010 vs. £22.3m from the same sales in 2009).

In effect, the good news has been flowing since 11 November 2009 when Andy WARHOL’s 200 One Dollar Bills more than tripled its high estimate by fetching $39m (Sotheby’s NY). The Impressionist & Modern sales at the beginning of February were a resounding success with Alberto GIACOMETTI’s L’homme qui marche I setting a new world record for a work of art at £58m (record calculated in GBP) and last week’s Contemporary Art sales were equally dynamic with sold rates of 96% at Sotheby’s and 90% at Christie’s.

Sotheby’s opened the first sale on 10 February with a session entitled “Zero” devoted to 49 masterpieces from the Sammlung Lenz Schönberg Collection. The collection’s coherence, origins and privacy (none of the works had ever appeared at auction before) were all major advantages. “Zero” generated £23.2m and 19 new records including one for an Yves KLEIN scorched anthropometric painting (est. £2.8m – £3.5m, sold for £3.2m), one for a Lucio FONTANA work on copper (Concetto Spaziale, New York 26, est. £1.5 – £2m, sold for £3m), one for a Heinz MACK work (Untitled , est. £25,000 – £35,000, sold £205,250), one for Günther UECKER (Haar der nymphen (est. £100,000 – £150,000, sold £825,250) and another for Roman OPALKA whose Details 5006016 – 5023628; 5023629 – 5049738; 5049739 – 5065512 fetched £713,250 (est. 240,000 – £360,000).After this dynamic first session, Lucian FREUD’s self-portrait (Self-Portrait with a Black Eye, 1978) described by Sotheby’s as the “the most important self-portrait by the artist ever to have appeared at auction” sold below its estimate at £2.8m. However, the superb Untitled work by Willem DE KOONING fetched £3.9m against a high estimate of £3m.

At Christie’s, the revenue from the 11 February evening sale amounted to £39m (vs £7m in 2009) a quarter of which was generated by Yves Klein works. His Anthropometry (ANT 5) and his Gold Sponge Relief (RE 47 II) fetched respectively £4.1m and £5.8m. These results were expected and the superb Gold Sponge Relief sold within its estimated range. There are only two other reliefs of comparable quality. Klein’s all-time auction record is still held by a blue relief entitled Archisponge (RE 11) which fetched the equivalent of £12m on 11 November 2008 ($19m at Sotheby’s).
Other results above the £1m line at Christie’s came from works by Frank AUERBACH, Andy Warhol (dollar-sign), Peter DOIG (Concrete Cabin West Side), Piero MANZONI (Achrome), Martin KIPPENBERGER (Fliegender Tanga (Flying Tanga)) and Richard PRINCE (Nurse).

Major works are once again flowing into auction rooms and after eighteen months the high end of the art market has emerged from a relatively short period of purgatory hibernation. But while the top-end of the market is congratulating itself that “confidence has returned”, the middle-market remains hesitant and suspicious of a general rise in prices driven by a handful of exceptional results.
Incidentally, 42% of our AMCI respondents believe that art prices will rise over the next three months.